Episode 14 – Helping Our Kids Forgive

In this episode we discuss forgiveness and some great books to help our children learn how to forgive and renew their friendships. 

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Books Recommended in This Episode


Welcome to Books that Spark, a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.

We have so many values and lessons. We need to teach our children as they grow. And some important ones are forgiveness and reconciliation. Today. We’re going to talk about what that means. And I think too many times in our society, we water down what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about forgiveness, because forgiveness, doesn’t just stop at saying, “I’m sorry.” –or especially if we have little children that cross their arms and roll their eyes and say, “I’m sorry,” and don’t really mean it, but that we’re looking for a reconciled relationship where we’re making it right, where we’re healing, the relationship. And that’s what forgiveness is all about. Granted, there are times when either a person does not want forgiveness and we choose to forgive for our own good. And for the good of the situation, there are also times of abuse where forgiveness means not reconciling, but keeping ourselves safe. And that’s a whole different ball game. But on the day to day, every day lessons, we’re teaching children, usually we’re looking for forgivenness and reconciliation. And so I found some really great books that talk about forgiveness in a way that children can understand and grasp the whole concept in a really great way. And one book I really like is called: I Forgive You–Love We Can Hear, Ask For, and Give. I love the title and that’s why I also love the book because it makes forgiveness very tangible. They give lots of examples in the book, and it’s written by Nicole Lataif, illustrated by Katy. Betz. It’s just very, very well written and describes forgiveness in such a way that children can really grasp it and hang onto it.

They use a lot of metaphor and analogy in a way that is very clear and gives very clear descriptions of what might need to be forgiven and what forgiveness means. And I love that it acknowledges that forgiving is hard and that sometimes it doesn’t come instantaneously. I love that. It’s a very authentic well-written book. I recommend it highly. And at the very beginning of the book, it has a section for grownups where it talks about forgiveness.

If we are truly forgiving people, it is one of the most difficult things we do as a Christian. It is not always easy. And sometimes we must forgive many, many times, not because the person has wronged us many, many times, hopefully, but because we keep bringing it back up in our own minds and replaying it over and over. We say forgive and forget, but we don’t usually forget as much as we would like to. So, that’s one of our failings as human beings.

This book has very colorful illustrations and the pictures are kind of lifelike; they’re cartoonish, but the children can definitely see what’s going on in the relationship between two children in the pictures. When it’s talking about needing to ask for forgiveness and the illustrations show exactly what they’re talking about. For instance, “God forgives you every time. He forgives you if you don’t share, if you pull hair, if you throw a fit, if you choose to quit.” And so this little boy is pulling this girl’s hair. And then on the page, it says, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, you can hear an ‘I forgive you.'” And then later on in the book, it says, “You can ask for an ‘I forgive you.'” And then it says, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, you can say, ‘I forgive you.'” So I like that. It has this little rhyming and sing-song, lyrical quality to it; a lot of the book rhymes, but not all of it. It’s memorable. Children can think about needing to say, “I forgive you,” needing to ask for forgiveness, for an “I forgive you.” And then you go a little bit further and it says, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, make forgiveness part of you.” So I love that it’s also teaching children that forgiveness is a part of life, that they need to make that a part of life. And then one of my favorite analogies or images that they use says, “Not forgiving is like having an elephant in your heart. He grows and grows. He gets heavier and heavier until, ‘Crack!’ he breaks your heart.” I think that is the most beautiful, concrete description I’ve ever seen of unforgiveness. And so it really can make it real to a child where they can grasp that. And I think that’s exactly how unforgiveness feels. It just grows and grows. And the Bible warns us not to let a root of bitterness grow up in our hearts. And that’s what unforgiveness will do. And it becomes the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. But the elephant in your heart, that is weighing you down. It says, “When we feed anger, it’s like having a lion in your throat. Lion’s roar. Roaring is scary. Speak calmly instead. Roaring hurts others, but it hurts you more. When you’re mad, take a break, talk it through with someone who loves you. Forgive others as God does.” Then it discusses some other things of how we can forgive. And I love, they also give you a section where it talks about “You don’t have to forgive right away.” Sometimes it takes you some time to work through your anger and to get to the point where you can forgive, but you don’t want to just let it sit there and grow and break your heart. And it ends with a children’s prayer, a simple prayer that we can pray with our kids.

It’s just really well done and stays true to the word of God, stays true to what we should be doing in forgiving others and in asking for forgiveness. And I think it’s so important today to really drive this home because our world is teaching that forgiveness is for our benefit, not the benefit of the other person, that when we forgive someone, it’s basically just helping us to not carry that bitterness with us and not hurt ourselves. It’s a very selfish notion when forgiveness is very selfless in its reality in truly forgiving someone, it’s a selfless act, letting go of our desire for revenge, our desire to get even, and it’s allowing God into the relationship and into the situation. A byproduct of forgiveness is that it does benefit us. We do feel a freedom when we let go, when we forgive. And a weight is lifted off of our heart and mind. And so that is true, but that is not the main reason behind forgiveness. The main thing behind forgiveness is us letting go so that God can work. When we forgive, we wind up not carrying the burden of bitterness. We don’t let that root of bitterness spring up in our hearts. And we save ourselves a lot of pain and misery and illness that can result from unforgiveness. But I think it is so much more than that. True forgiveness is much, much more. True forgiveness is not playing God. And when we hold onto a grudge, we don’t want to forgive someone, it’s like, we want to hang onto it and have vengeance against the person. And it could mean that we just want to use it as a crutch to continue to be disobedient to God.

There’s just so many nuances to unforgiveness, but forgiveness in its real form is a sacrifice. It’s a letting go and letting God have control and letting God into the relationship and letting God have his way in my life and letting God have his way in that other person’s life. If we are truly forgiving someone, we want them to be blessed. We want God to have his way in their life. And by that I don’t mean that he’s going to strike them down or that he’s going to teach them what they did wrong, but that he has his way in their life. And that they become stronger–a stronger child of God–that they grow in the Lord and that they are fruitful and blessed and that he can have his way with them and use their life. It’s understanding that we are not static beings that never grow and never change. If you think back over your life, and there’s someone that you, when you were younger, you hurt them or they hurt you. And you’ve never fully reconciled with them. They’re still stunted in our mind. We still think of them as in that same place. But in reality, we all have grown. We all have changed. Hopefully we’ve matured and grown up and changed. And God has worked in our lives to make us more like him. When we see that person, even if we’ve forgiven them, even if we’ve reconciled with them the best we could, we are still not that same person. And they are not still that same person. We’ve all grown. And so we need to let go, not only of what we held against that person, but recognize that we are all growing and we are all moving, hopefully closer to Christ-likeness in our walk with God and not see that person through the lens of whatever our disagreement was or whatever our hurt was and letting God not only forgive them and work in their life, but help us to see our relationship where it should be now and understand that we’re not the same people we were when we hurt each other. And that’s something that we don’t talk about. We don’t talk about these things a lot. We just talk about, “Say, I’m sorry. Say I forgive you.” And we don’t make it a heart issue with our kids.

I had one friend, actually my midwife, and I thought she was so wise. When her kids would disobey or they would hurt someone in their family, she would send them to their room until they were at a place where they were ready to truly ask for forgiveness. And so she didn’t force it on them in the moment, which I see a lot of teachers, more teachers than parents, do. They want to try to reconcile too quickly when a child isn’t quite there. So, she lets her children go alone by themselves and spend some time with God praying and getting their hearts to a place where they truly want forgiveness and reconciliation. I think that’s really important.

I created a worksheet that will be in the show notes. If you would like to download it, feel free. It’s a freebie. But it’s what I’ve created to help with walking through reconciliation with an older child; this would be older elementary. If you were using it with a very young child–first of all, I think it would be too much for a very young child. They may not even be reading age. So this is definitely for a child who’s reading age, who’s able to write down a paragraph, who’s able to process their feelings. But I wanted to make a worksheet that would help a child walk through the steps of reconciliation. And so they have a place where they can write what they need forgiveness for, what is their part in this disagreement or this problem. And then who do they need to confess to, who have they hurt? And then of course also confessing to God. And we talk about what, what a forgiveness is, repentance is, what reconciliation is, and what restitution is. And so these are all big words that we can help our children understand and then talk about it. So helping our child understand their need for repentance. It’s not just an, “I’m sorry,” it’s a heart issue. Then also in the worksheet, what the other person did that needs forgiven. And they write that out, and then they choose to forgive them. Who do I need to forgive? And then at the end, it talks about reconciliation is our relationship okay now? Are we where we need to be? What else needs to happen? Is there restitution that needs to be made?” And I use the example of if you break your sister’s toy, you may need to buy her a new toy or give her one of yours to make restitution. Now, maybe that isn’t needed. Maybe she just forgave, and it’s okay. But if there is something that is still between the two children that needs to be made, right, sometimes restitution does need to take place. And we need to teach our kids that and help them know that there are times that when they’ve done something wrong, they can make it better by action, as well as words. This worksheet, I hope, will help you if you want to use it. If you want to just have a look at it and use it as a jumping off point for how you want to talk to your kids, then that’s there for your use however you want to use it.

So, we know that forgiveness is a powerful thing. It helps set us free from bitterness. It helps set us free from what we’re holding onto that can hurt our hearts, but it sets them free from being held under our unforgiveness, from them having a burden that they don’t need to bear either, so God can do his work in their lives. The other thing too is if we don’t forgive, sometimes the other person is not even aware that they’ve hurt us because we’ve never talked to them about it. And so we’ve got to teach our kids–first of all, we’ve got to teach ourselves the reality of what forgiveness truly is and not buy into what the world says it is. But look at what the Bible says it is. Oh, and on that worksheet, I also have several Bible verses that you can use to teach about forgiveness, to memorize with your family about forgiveness. Reconciliation, and respect for people. Two of the key values we need to teach our children. It’s the key to having successful marriages and other successful relationships. When we grow up and, you know, statistics have shown that people don’t lose their jobs because they don’t have skill in doing a job. They lose their jobs because they don’t know how to have good relationships. They don’t know how to cooperate with other people. They don’t know how to reconcile when something has gone wrong. These life skills that we are discipling our kids with that we’re, that we’re helping our kids to grasp and build in their lives, it’s not only helping them to be better children, it’s helping them to grow into better and more successful adults. So these are very important and key things we need to teach. One of the key things that I always talk about when I’m talking about forgiveness is being able to ask God to bless the person. And so we want to get to that point.

Now, I found a couple other books that are really cute, and there are a lot of books about forgiveness. Some are written from a Christian perspective, some are not. These are not necessarily written from a Christian perspective, but they’re cute. And I think they’ll really drive home the idea of forgiveness and how we feel when we are angry and upset with someone. One of them is called Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. You got to love the alliteration. And it’s written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Lily is a little mouse, and she loves school. She loves her teacher, and she’s decided she wants to be a teacher because her teacher is so wonderful. And then, one day it’s show-and-tell, and she disturbs the class with what she’s brought to show and tell, and her teacher gets onto her, and it makes her mad. Then she decides she doesn’t like school. She doesn’t like her teacher, and she never wants to be a teacher. She has this little fit. She writes these little stories and illustrates them. Her teacher sees what she’s written and everything. And in the book, it shows how he reconciles with her and how her attitude then changes to wanting to be a teacher again. And I love the way the book takes us through her struggle with unforgiveness, with anger, and then how she reconciles with her teacher and how she then comes to a place where the relationship is actually stronger and better than it was before. I love that. And it’s a really cute little book about her plastic purse. Her purple plastic purse makes noise, and that’s how she disturbs the class.

The other one is such a funny book, and it’s called Horrible Bear. And it’s by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. And if you’ve never read this book, it is so cute. But this little girl has a kite and it flies into the bears din and the bears hibernating he’s sleeping. And so the kite breaks and she blames the bear for the kite braking. And so she goes around telling everybody horrible bear, he’s a horrible bear. The bear gets really mad at her and she’s a horrible girl, horrible girl. And then they wind up becoming friends and everything gets fixed, but so they both have their anger and angst at what happened. And now they’re telling everybody else, which I think is important to talk about how we should never go around bad, mouthing other people. And then they reconcile and make things, right. It doesn’t have a whole lot of words in it. So it would be good with talking with younger children and helping them to understand their emotions and how they feel and how they need to control that, and then be able to reconcile with someone.

Okay, I want to talk about one more silly book that you can use for fun. You can use it if you’re homeschooling for a poetry unit that you’re doing with your kids, or it definitely is a good one to use when talking about insincere confessions, you know, when someone is asking for forgiveness, but they really aren’t sorry. So first you have to know the background. There’s a poem by William Carlos Williams that’s called “This Is Just to Say,” and it says,

“I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.”

So, you can see that it’s talking about when we’re asking forgive for forgiveness, do we really mean it? And this goes along with the book called, Forgive Me. I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, and it’s illustrated by Matthew Cordell. It’s false apology poems. And this is for a little bit older kid, although you probably could read some of them to elementary, early elementary and they would still get it because it deals with fairytales and things. But it is so funny. Some of the allusions are to fairy tale stories that you know. And so they’re false apology poems. And the first poem says, “this is just to say, my bulldozer has flattened the thorny hedge, which you mistakenly expected to sleep behind until the Prince came, forgive me, I’m charging tourists $10 to visit the castle.” So in that poem, they knocked down the hedge where the sleeping beauty was hiding. And there’s one from Jack and Jill, “you fell and cracked your skull on the Hill where I had carefully placed a banana peel. Forgive me, Jill is now my girlfriend.” So he’s stolen Jill from Jack and made Jack fall. There’s one about the princess and the pea where she really knew the pea was there. She, sorry, not sorry sort of thing. They’re all silly. They’re all ridiculous. There’s one about Jack and the Beanstalk. It says, “this is just to say, I have chewed through the tall beanstalk, which you recently stepped off way up there. Forgive me. I think I’m worth more than five magic beans.” And of course, it’s the cow who’s falsely apologizing and chews down the beanstalk because she’s been sold for five magic beans. So, with these poems, you can talk about, “Are you really sorry? Or are you just saying, you’re sorry? Do you really want forgiveness? Or are you really not so sorry that you did what you did.” And so we talk about the heart issue and make it a little bit more serious than probably it needs to be at times.

But with these poems, we can approach a very heavy subject in a funny way and help our children to really examine their hearts without them feeling like we’re shaking our finger at them. So, I hope some of these books will be enjoyable with your kids and that you can enjoy tackling a very important subject, but in an entertaining way that opens up some good conversations.

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope our discussion will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. You can sign up for my mailing list to get weekly reminders of this podcast and my blog. My website is terriehellardbrown.com. When you join my mailing list, you automatically have several freebies that you can download and enjoy with your kids.

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Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, and discussion. For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

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